The National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) is the only museum in the world entirely dedicated to supporting women and promoting their work in the visual, performing and literary arts. The museum that was founded by Wilhelmina Cole Holladay in 1981 opened its doors to the public in 1987 and is located a few blocks from the White House in Washington DC.
The NMWA addresses gender disparity in the art world by promoting the accomplishments of women artists from the past and the present, of all nationalities, through exhibiting, preserving, acquiring and researching their art and educating the public about their achievements, while at the same time assuring the place of women artists in the future.
Susan Fisher Sterling, director of the NMWA said, “Most people know Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo and Raphael. So, you’ve got four men there already; you don’t usually think about Sofonisba Anguissola, Lavinia Fontana, Elisabetta Sirani and Élisabeth Vigée Le Brun. But they existed and they were amazing, exceptional women in their times.”
The museum’s collection includes thousands of works by more than 1,000 women artists from the 16th century to the present-day, including Mary Cassatt, Frida Kahlo, Alma Thomas, Lee Krasner, Louise Bourgeois, Chakaia Booker, Nan Goldin, Elisabeth Louise Vigee-LeBrun, Mary Cassatt, Sarah Bernhardt, Gertrude Kasebier and Louise Dahl-Wolfe, to name but a few.
Furthermore, the NMWA houses the Archives of Women Artists, which is dedicated to collecting and preserving thousands of papers and primary records of women artists and organizations that promote women’s contributions to the arts, and limited editions artists’ books.
In 2018, Rachel Tachjian wrote, “The NMWA is also aware of the unique responsibility it has as an institution that focuses only on female artists. Of course, it shares the goals of most other museums—to create compelling and provocative exhibitions, to engage visitors, and to challenge assumptions and encourage critical thinking about art—but because it focuses exclusively on the work of women artists, it creates opportunities and offers a platform that other museums may not.”; and Stacy Meteer, Communications and Marketing Manager at the NMWA stated, “Ask someone to name five artists and responses will likely include names such as Warhol, Picasso, van Gogh, Monet, da Vinci—all male artists. Ask someone to name five women artists, and the question poses more of a challenge. The truth is that women have never been treated equally in the art world, and today they remain dramatically underrepresented and undervalued in museums, galleries, and auction houses. This imbalance goes well beyond the art world, of course. But art plays a vital role in exploring issues of gender in society.”
The NMWA fulfills its outreach and advocacy goals about the artistic accomplishments of women by offering to the public a variety of activities for all age groups, including engaging visitors with hands-on workshops, conversations with artists, weekly gallery talks, art history lectures, and tours for adults, students, and families.
In March of 2016, the NMWA launched a social media campaign identified as #5WomenArtists that since its conception has been overwhelmingly supported by more than 1,000 cultural institutions around the world that have embraced the museum’s initiative during Women’s History Month by incorporating events celebrating women artists. The Tate Britain announced in March 2019 five large-scale solo exhibitions of women artists currently in development, scheduled to open at its galleries in 2020-21.
According to Sterling between two and seven percent of art on the walls in major museums, including contemporary museums, is by women, and women artists only account for about 30 percent of art displayed in galleries.
If you feel encouraged to support the NMWA cause, there are many resources online that can help you bring to light female artists you admire and are unknown.
For more information about the National Museum of Women in the Arts, visit www.nmwa.org